Sangean ATS-909X2 AM/LW/FM/SW/Air Radio
The ATS-909X2 is the third generation of a well-known series of top-of-the-line multiband portable radios from Sangean. The immediate predecessor was the ATS-909X which replaced the earlier ATS-909 which was also marketed by Radio Shack as the DX-398. Each upgraded version has represented an evolution of performance and features and the newest ATS-909X2 is no exception. Outwardly extremely similar to the ATS-909X, the new ATS-909X2 offers many advanced and upgraded features over the older model which can enhance the user experience. There are also some important performance improvements as we will see but before we delve into the details let’s check out the Product Details.
Specifications and Features:
SW: 1.711 – 29.999 MHz (120/90/75/60/49/31/25/21/19/15/13/11 Meter Bands)
SSB with 10 Hz Tuning Steps
AM: 520 – 1710 KHz
LW: 153 – 519 KHz (USA)/100-519 KHz (Europe)
FM: 87.5 – 108 Hz/76 – 108 MHz/64 – 108 MHz (RDS/RBDS PS/PTY/RT/CT) Stereo/Mono Auto or forced mono)
Air: 118 – 137 MHz
FM DSP Tuner with defeatable Soft Mute
AM/LW/SW PLL Dual Conversion
Info Display (RF Signal Strength/S/N Ratio/Page or Memory Name/FM RBDS)
RF Gain Control – Variable via Knob
Tuning Methods: Direct Entry/Up/Down buttons with Seek and ATS, Knob with 2 speeds,
Tuning Steps: Using Up/Down Buttons & Tuning Knob
SW: 5 KHz/1 KHz/20Hz/10 Hz
AM:10 KHz/9 KHz/1 KHz/20 Hz/10Hz
LW: 9 KHz/1KHz/20 Hz/10 Hz
FM: 1 MHz/200 KHz/100 KHz/50 KHz/
Air: 1 MHz/25 KHz/5 KHz
Presets: 1674 Total in 3 Memory Banks that store 558 presets each
Air 5 Pages 45 presets
FM 4 Pages 36 Presets
MW 3 Pages 27 Presets
LW 1 Page 9 Presets
SW 49 Pages 441 Presets
Bandwidths: Manual or Auto – *See Chart Below
Alpha Numeric tagging of Stations, Pages, Cities
Clock: 24 or 12 Hour Format/Dual Time Zones/DST/3 Alarms/Snooze/Sleep
Tone Switch: 3 Position
Variable Level LCD Illumination
Aux Audio In Jack
Line Out/Record Out & Standby Jack (can activate matching recorders)
Ext AM/SW Antenna jack
Stereo Earphone Jack
Reset switch (recessed)
Power Source: Supplied AC Adapter (9 Volt 1.2 Amp center pin positive) or 4 AA batteries – Alkaline or can also recharge NiCad or Nimh cells and monitors each cell individually
In the box: Ant-60 reel antenna, stereo earbuds, AC Power Supply, Soft Carry Pouch, Owner’s Manual
There are too many features and details to list them all here but you can download the User Manual from Sangean’s website here:
Initial Observations: I must say that the new Graphite color is very attractive. The first thing I did was to put the new ATS-909X2 next to my ATS-909X to compare basic functions and I found the new model has several great new features and is ergonomically a bit friendlier in several ways, along with featuring a larger, brighter display. Although most of the controls are in the same places and have the same functions as in the previous model, those that are different are a change for the better. For example, the old Lock button on the front panel is now the Bandwidth switch and you can toggle through the several bandwidths easily while viewing their status visually on the display, and of course there are now multiple bandwidths (rather than just two) depending on band and mode – *see chart. One oddity though is that there is only a single narrow bandwidth in SSB mode. The old Time Set switch on the right side is now the Auto/Manual Bandwidth control and in addition to the front panel bandwidth control settings are very easy to use and observe visually as also shown on that chart. The old Priority button is replaced with an Info button which controls the new Info display which lets you view signal strength and signal to noise ratio…a feature many other radios have had for a while now. Although I do miss the Priority feature the new Info display is actually something I use all the time and I think it is a good trade-off. With the addition of the Air Band, there is now a combination AM/LW button but again, this seems like a worthy change and the addition of Air Band is a great upgrade for many users. Tuning is smooth and easy with no muting with both the Up/Down buttons and the jog dial…very nice. I also like the smooth manual tuning with no muting or noise which makes band scanning very pleasant. Finally the absence of soft muting means you can side tune with no loss of volume…another plus.
The Auto Bandwidth feature automatically adjusts the bandwidth dependent on signal level. As signal levels fade the bandwidth decreases, reducing noise content and improving intelligibility. This is far more desirable than Soft Muting which causes unnatural pumping and surging of the volume and I’m glad there is no soft muting on the Sangean (except on FM where it can be turned off). It is also helpful that the chosen bandwidth is visually displayed so you can tell at a glance how it has set itself which is very deluxe. The Auto Bandwidth feature can be helpful in many conditions making fades less obtrusive and it is also nice during band scanning, but if you find it disconcerting you can turn it off. I think it is a worthwhile addition and I find I’m leaving it on more often than not.
After using the radio for several weeks, I discovered another advantage of the Auto Bandwidth feature…it acts like a noise blanker during bursts of static which I experienced in a thunderstorm. With each burst of static the bandwidth narrowed to varying degrees, tracking the severity of the static bursts, thus blunting the harshness of the noise…it seemed to work perfectly in this regard and the signal was much more listenable in the Auto Bandwidth mode compared with using the manual setting. Interestingly, my car radio acts just the same way.
Features which are the same as the older model are many – the Fast/Slow button in the center of the Tuning Spinner-style Knob (which I think is very easy to use), the three position Tone switch and the Aux Input/Line Output/Record jacks with the ability to control an external recorder. One thing I wish had been changed but wasn’t is the Aux Antenna jack. I’m very glad that it still works on AM as this capability is missing on many multiband radios and I am a big fan of external AM antennas, but with such an excellent FM tuner it is a shame the jack does not work for FM, although reception of the DSP FM tuner off the whip is excellent, and I must also point out that many recent DSP FM tuners are excellently matched to their whip antennas and often don’t work as well with external antennas. Still, it would nice to have the option.
Performance: I have done extensive side-by-side comparisons between the new ATS-909X2 and the previous ATS-909X and several other competing and some vintage reference multiband radios and have done tests both on battery and AC power along with internal and external antennas to develop the clearest picture of overall performance. There’s a lot to digest here but away we go!
SW: I compared the ATS-909X2 against the previous ATS-909X along with several radios from Eton, Tecsun and others and found the new Sangean to have very good SW whip sensitivity. Many online reviewers complained that the older model was “deaf” on the whip and I always thought that was a gross over-statement, but it was true that the older Sangeans were not quite as sensitive as the competition. I’m happy to say I found the new ATS-909X2 to be noticeably improved in this area and it ran head-to-head with all the other current portables I compared it with. I did find that sometimes one radio did better on a particular frequency but then another radio was better on another frequency. This is common and is one reason why I do several bandscans of many frequencies over many days to get a clear picture of how radios really compare. Snap judgments based on a few frequencies can be very misleading. Nevertheless, the ATS-909X2 was as sensitive on SW using its whip antenna as any other portable I compared it with and that includes some well-respected vintage radios as well. No one will call the ATS-909X2 deaf.
The ‘909X2 also did very well with external SW antennas. It handled the stronger signals even at night with no problems although I occasionally used the variable Gain Control, but overall, its resistance to overload was at least as good if not a hair better than the others. I still find that variable Gain Control a bit difficult to get a hold of but that is quibbling.
SSB performance was also exemplary in terms of its ability to easily obtain precise tuning with natural recovered audio. I do wish that Sangean offered more than the single narrow bandwidth in SSB mode…the radio has so many bandwidth options in other modes that this is a bit of a puzzle. Also, like the previous model, SSB volume is noticeably reduced compared with AM mode, but at least by advancing the volume control I was able to get great results and with its 10 Hz tuning steps (a huge improvement over the 40 Hz steps of the older model) the results were excellent. The Sangean had lower distortion in SSB mode than some other highly rated portables…I would guess this has to do with its AGC characteristics but for whatever reason it was easy to get natural sounding recovered audio on the ‘909X2. I also found the zero-beat frequency was very close to the original frequency so very little fine tuning was needed. This is an excellent SSB portable. Overall display accuracy seemed right on in my sample as well.
It has also come to my attention that many samples have a problem with low SSB volume. My sample does not have the problem with LSB being lower than USB that many users are now reporting but overall the level is low and this is something that I and many others have reported to Sangean in hopes of a resolution.
AM: I am also very happy to report that AM sensitivity with the built-in antenna has also been improved over the previous model. Although no current multiband portable is as sensitive on AM as the best AM/FM only radios, the ATS-909X2 is now as good as the rest of the multiband portables I compared it with. It will rate *** on the AM Mega Shootout Article. This is a big upgrade over the previous model.
I also found AM sound quality to have better high frequency clarity than the older model either due to slightly wider bandwidth or lower distortion…the AM sound is just slightly cleaner and more open.
SSB/ECSS mode was also effective on both SW and AM although again I could wish for more bandwidth choices in this mode.
FM: FM is still superb as with many of today’s best DSP portables. ***** on the FM Mega Shootout List says it all. In a nutshell the ATS-909X2 will pull in FM signals as well as any portable radio I have ever tested and its RDS function and the Auto/Manual Stereo modes are decided advantages. *Here’s a tip that will improve your FM sensitivity. The whip antenna is 46″ long. Extend it fully near the bottom of the FM band. But as you move higher in frequency try shortening it as you read the signal strength on the meter. By the time you reach 107.9 MHz you will get greatest signal level by shortening the whip to 31″. This is a gradual process as the frequency changes…try it!
Air: I am not a seasoned Air Band listener and I now live about 30 miles from the nearest large airport but on my first time scanning the Air Band the radio landed on several active frequencies some of which were very strong and clear along with many which were faint. I compared the Sangean with another highly regarded radio with Air Band and they seemed very comparable…I suspect they both use the same or similar DSP chip for Air band which would explain that.
Hand Capacitance Noise: A video of an early production unit showed the radio emitting a loud noise on SW as the operator’s hand was moved over the display area. Although I was able to create this effect on some frequencies the effect was minor enough that it didn’t interfere with any signal I could receive. And of course, when I moved my hand away the noise went away…I did not find this to be a problem.
Switching AC Power Supply: Sangean’s power supplies are well designed and produce a minimum of switching noise. As I have found with other Sangean radios, it is best to keep the power supply as far from the radio as possible. As I said noise is minimal but you are usually better off using battery power for best weak signal AM/SW/LW reception.
Conclusion: The most often asked question I receive when a new radio replaces an existing model is, “Should I upgrade to the new model. Is it worth it”? Many reviewers are happy to answer that for you but I think I disappoint these people because I usually answer with, “It depends”. It depends on how happy you are with the older model, or other radios you own. It depends on how you use a radio and what you value most in it. And it matters how eager you are simply to have the best even if improvements are not earth shattering. For me, I like the ATS-909X2 quite a bit more than the previous model. I like it for its improved RF performance, crisper AM audio, the updated Info display and many of its other new features.
There is no doubt that the new Sangean ATS-909X2 is a tour deforce of design and function. It is simply beautiful to look at. It feels solid in the Sangean tradition. Its display is big, bright, very informative and attractive. It would appear the Sangean development team set out to make some real improvements to the previous ATS-909X and I will say they have succeeded. During days and weeks of tests and comparisons I not only put the ‘909X2 up against the best portable multiband radios from other manufacturers but I also spent quite a bit of time comparing the older ‘909X to the new ‘909X2 and I came away feeling the new radio is much more desirable in many ways. It performs better on AM and SW, it has better SSB/ECSS performance with 10 Hz tuning accuracy, it has more bandwidth choices with the very cool Auto Bandwidth feature and is ergonomically very user friendly. And you also get Sangean’s legendary quality control. To be fair there are other radios that may outpoint is here or there but the Sangean will in turn outpoint them here or there. Overall, I rate the ATS-909×2 as one of the very best World Band portable radios available today and a worthy upgrade to the older ‘909X.